Chelsea were always going to be targeting a fullback this summer to replace the departing Ashley Cole. Yesterday, they landed their man when Filipe Luis put pen to paper on a three-year deal and took Michael Essien's old number 5.
So what does Luis bring to Chelsea? In this instance, I'm going to steal a description from our old buddy Romelu Lukaku, and simply label the fullback as 'complete'. There are no major weaknesses in the player's game, which is a fairly rare thing to say about fullbacks in the modern game.
There's nothing flashy about his attacking, he's rarely going to wow you with his marauding runs down the left flank or flashy dribbling, but he often finds himself in the right area to receive the ball and advance it to the edge of the box. In this sense, he reminds me quite a bit of what we saw from Cesar Azpilicueta during the 2012/13 season at right back. He's a capable enough player going forward, but he seems to understand that he's simply there to support the more gifted attacking players, and his decision making reflects that fact.
Those of you that frequent stats sites such as Squawka and Whoscored might have noticed that he crosses the ball at a similar rate to Branislav Ivanovic, which will probably scare the Fernando Torres out of you. After all, watching Bran float high cross after high cross harmlessly into the box is one of the most frustrating ways to watch the Chelsea attack break down. While Luis takes a similar approach of trying to push the ball into the box frequently, his style in doing so tends to be quite different. Unlike Bran, Luis is often in a more advanced position when he fires a cross, and tends to keep a larger than normal amount of those crosses low. That doesn't always lead to more successful crosses than the floaters delivered by Bran, but those are far more difficult for defenders to deal with, and the resulting confusion in doing so created quite a few chances for Diego Costa last season.
Defensively speaking, he's no more flashy than he is in attack. He's never going to emulate David Luiz, being the first man to challenge every long ball or dribbling opponent. Instead, Filipe tends to simply funnel the ball toward the sideline, using the edge of the pitch as a second defender before he moves in to make a challenge. Because of this, he doesn't dive into tackles very often despite taking the ball off of his opponent at a pretty insane volume (and success rate). These standing tackles have an added benefit as well, as Luis often finds himself ready to spring the counter as soon as he takes possession because of this.
At 6'0" tall, you'd expect Luis to be an asset in the air. While the stats site will tell you that's not the case, I'm not entirely sure this is true*. The Brazilian rarely gets involved trying to win a header, which is understandable given that he's a fullback by trade. In Diego Simeone's system, the defensive line was often narrow enough that one of Godin or Miranda were on hand to challenge balls in the air, while Luis often tucked in to cover anyone looking to take advantage of that challenge. When he did find himself challenging for balls in the air, he was actually fairly proficient. He just didn't do it often, and given that all of Chelsea's center backs and Nemanja Matic are incredible in that regard, he's unlikely to find himself being asked to change his style.
Despite being the best fullback likely to move during the summer window by a fairly wide margin, there are a few downsides to Luis. He'll turn 29 before the season gets underway, meaning he's not likely to provide any value beyond his current contract.He also comes with a substantial transfer fee, and while he's likely to be a considerably better player than Manchester United's Luke Shaw for each of the next two seasons, the Blues will either have to find an internal replacement several years from now, or go back into the fullback market. Fortunately though, the Blues are currently flush with cash to spend, and with the surplus of young talent coming through the academy and out on loan, aren't likely to be hurting for money at any point in the near future.
With the Chelsea fanbase having fallen in love with the simple efficiency of Cesar Azpilicueta's game, Luis will likely be another cult hero at Stamford Bridge in relatively short order.He'll have new teammates to gel with and new competition to learn, but if he manages to do so and play at the same level he has for the past two seasons in Spain, he'll make it easy to move on from Ashley Cole.